1) Don't follow Marcin into a bathroom....

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Flag of Turkey  , Istanbul,
Thursday, October 27, 2011

The mornings in Bulgaria are a grim thing, mostly because all the windows here show views of Bulgaria. From the hotel window there is a scene of pealing grey banality, darkened windows and the occasional sound of a clapped out car being driven to total excess. In fact yesterday I saw a Vauxhall Kadet, the precursor of the Astra. 1980s Vauxhalls are everywhere here, usually being driven at 100mph with collapsed suspension, no windows and a patchwork quilt of different coloured panels. The driving here is, to be fair pretty decent. Most people are decent and most bikers, even on scooters are taking an interest in a friendly way. A guy on a scooter came up beside me yesterday and asked me to rev the engine then nodded in appreciation. Strange request. Most groups of people seemed more interested in stealing our stuff than anything else. We left the bikes for a moment and shabbly looking guys start heading towards them, nudging each other and looking around.

I think it's safe to say i’ve found the worst place in Europe, even worse than Lewisham although I have heard Romania is worse.

Today we’re going for some breakfast and then an easy ride into Istanbul. When i say easy I mean we’re on an easy schedule but we’ve had to because the sat nav is no use to us here so we’re riding on blind faith, compass pointing and best guess. We’re travelling down narrow roads, sometimes with single lanes and they’re full of Turkish trucks which means we’re actually not that lost, it’s just that this country is a bit broken.

Talking of broken we had some trouble getting into the car park and Marcin clipped his side box. The boxes are massive and the pucks took quite a hit. The screws on the plastic sheered on one of the connectors and the box fell off. This morning we surgically repaired it after a trip into town. Surgery was performed by Marcin with a big spanner until the alloy was straight again and I had some nut and bolts which are probably better than the original screws so no problem. Another successful roadside repair.

The town is... different. People stare at us like we’re the outsides that we are. They stared at us even more when we bought postcards and walked around taking pictures of them. It’s been an interesting visit but we won’t be sorry to leave Bulgaria, Europe’s dustbin. The road beckoned and now that we’re literally in the gutter we can see the stars.

Important rules of the road, number one. Do not follow Marcin into a bathroom. Important rule of the road, number two. DO NOT FOLLOW MARCIN INTO A BATHROOM. I’ve heard the warnings and heeded them but today was extra special. While loading the bikes outside in the open air he farted but the word "fart" barely comes close to describing the horror of the smell. It was like he’d cast a demon out through his trousers. It was as if evil itself was clawing its way out of his fetid innards. We wandered into town and had breakfast, of sorts. Marcin got a plastic tray filled with grilled meat and I had the worst cup of coffee in the known universe. He exclaimed in disappointment that it was just a sausage. I had a cup of wretched coffee and added some nice biscuit things and I was ready to go.

We knew the roads ahead were going to be lacking a certain quality, ie a smooth and flat quality but we headed on anyway at a good pace. Police offices were wooden shacks with broken windows, roads were pitted worse than the face of a McDonalds employee. Finally after what seemed like a disproportionate length of time we made it to the Turkish border. It was a fairly good crossing bt still cost us around an hour. At first they told us we needed a visa. We were able to buy one on the border for 10 and a minor inconvenience, I have heard it was 130 if you book it in London. I don’t know if that’s true but it wouldn’t surprise me. After that and three passport checks they wanted to check our bike documents. They noticed, quite rightly that we didn’t have “green card” insurance beyond Europe. Marcin argued that he did and was insured all the way to Mars and I asked what would happen if we promised to drive really, really carefully. They seemed very friendly after a quick chat and a joke and said they’d turn a blind eye and we could go so long as we only stayed a few days. That saved us 50 each! It’s all going back into their economy when we spend the savings on beer in any case.

We then moved on to a luggage inspection and unstrapping the gear Marcin managed to cut his forehead. Not a lethal wound but he bled like a stone doesn’t. We patched him up with my pretty impressive and legally required medical kit bought from poundland and the sympathy we gained sped us on our way. I heard we would have to unpack all our gear. In the end we just had to ask what to do and were told, it’s all done. You can go. So we went.

The roads forward were decent enough and we made good time. Turkey got increasingly windy so toward the end of the run I was struggling to keep control. My clutch seems to be slipping although the problem appears to be the clutch cable as adjusting it temporarily fixes the problem. It feels solid enough to finish this trip. My fuel economy is lousy again which is a pain in the arse now that we’re paying 1.85 per litre for petrol. I reckon it could be the spark plugs I recently fitted although it’s unlikely. It’s more likely a mixture of a faster pace than the bike likes into heavy wind and rubbish fuel.

We stopped for me to have a piss and grabbed some food. It was decent enough but pricey after what we’d got used to. Another pair of European bikers joined us briefly. They were riding a BMW R1200gs adventure and the other a litre class CBR. They came through Romania and like us in Serbia they thought it was great. Seems like either way would have been ok but I did enjoy those Serbian roads.

So... Turkish people. We met a few and they’re generous, warm friendly and welcoming. They’re also lethal behind the wheels of a powered vehicle. The driving here is beyond stupid. Stupid is losing your keys, this is retardation on a national scale. Istanbul is a beautiful city, slightly disjointed and a bit cluttered but charming and with amazing architecture and cultural history. Also you can ride your bike anywhere and the police just look at you apathetically.

A couple of guys pulled up next to us on BMW F800gs’s. They asked us if there’s anything we needed. A new clutch, better fuel economy... more power? People here are among the friendliest we’ve met so far. Walking around the town looking for somewhere cheap to eat is a challenge. The friendly guys jump out and introduce themselves to try to drag you kicking and screaming into their bars. One guy said he was from South London, just like me. I asked him where, he said “Devon... in Kent.” Nice. Food is around the same price as at home but they throw in starters and tea and are far, far nicer about everything. People here are still people, not mindless automatons serving a profit making system. Put them behind the wheels of a car and they turn into blinkered, self-serving automatons serving a profit making system.

Beer.... their only beer is Effes. It sucks. It tastes like water mixed with beer mixed with piss mixed with pissy watery beer.

So we found a hotel online. Basic it may be but it’s ok. Tomorrow we go onwards. If the roads are on our side we should make the next big town. Then it really begins... after that there is no motorways, no main roads, not much of anything. I can’t wait...
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